‘A girl, who lives in suburban America, with her mom and little brother, attends public school, and plays at the park, is being sold on the weekends by a family member to a dozen different men per day in the Midwest Heartland of the United States’ was the ending to the last Langstaff Letter on sex trafficking. We take up the story again that describes one such girl caught up in sex trafficking, as told by former police officer Jessica Bartholomew, who currently leads a ministry called ACT United. Her story represents the situation of many children, both boys and girls, that are being sold right now under our noses here in America.
WHO IS THIS GIRL?
It would take months of investigation and several conversations with her to build a relationship and gain the trust she needed to want my help and to disclose the details of the betrayal, abuse and violence she had endured. And it wasn’t until her trafficker refused to spend time with her that did not involve selling her to a customer for profit that she decided to tell me who he was.
She is a Midwest American girl. She lived with her biological mother and younger brother in a nice house in a first ring suburb of the cities. She attended public school and had good friends. In her preteen years, like all girls, she began to struggle through the new developmental challenges like puberty, peer acceptance, and self-esteem. For her unfortunately, her ability to navigate these challenges was effected by loss, grief, and the rejection of a Dad who was no longer involved in her life. This had created a hole in her heart longing to be filled by a Fathers love and acceptance.
Her mother also had a similar hole in her heart and the desire to fill it with a relationship. By the age of 12, her mother found a boyfriend to fill her hole, or should I say, he found her. He found a single mom, with a nice home, a need for love and attention, who had a beautiful, young daughter who also needed attention from a male fatherly figure. But it would not be him that would fill the daughter’s need, he was just the doorway into the family, it would be his adult son. Mom’s “boyfriend” would choose mom on purpose, lay on the loving comments and affection, move in to the household quickly, and introduce his son, the new step brother, to the family.
Her step brother was 22, charming, attractive, and a full time sex trafficker. He made thousands of dollars a month selling young girls just like her. His grooming and manipulation of her into a relationship started right away. She was 12 years old and soaked up all the attention, “dates”, rides in his new expensive car, and kind words he would tell her. His attraction to her and the blooming romantic relationship would be their secret. It was all a lie, but not to her.
It would only be a couple months of grooming her into a loving “relationship” with him that he introduced the idea of her working “with” him in the business; in “the life.” She would be his favorite and most protected. She would be the best because of her beauty and personality. He would be so proud of her. “Together” they would make tons of money and live a rich and daring lifestyle.
THE FIRST TIME SHE WAS SOLD
The first time she was sold was out of a hotel room in the suburban family town of Roseville MN at age 12. Multiple men throughout Minnesota would come to buy a half hour of sexual slavery with a 12 year old girl. Afterward, he comforted her, spent money on her, and told her she did great.
Over the next two years she would be sold every weekend and sometimes for two weeks straight out of several hotels in Minnesota cities including Roseville, St Cloud, and Brooklyn Park. Her “Boyfriend”/Step Brother/Father figure whom she called “Daddy” would also drop her off and pick her up for outcall services at the homes of men who had ordered her online.
Over the years she was sold to men throughout Minnesota and some who came from out of state for a chance to meet a child for sex in a city where no one would recognize them. Most of them had careers, wives, and children so the stakes of discovery were high. She collected about a dozen of their personal cell phone numbers so they could exchange pornographic photos via text message and have direct access to her. It gave her a false, but felt, sense of power over her situation by having them go directly to her and not through Daddy.
She would meet other girls he was selling. Through a mix of jealousy, that she was not the only girl, and yet comfort, that she was not the only girl being sold, these other girls became her teachers in the sex trafficking game, mentors for survival and her “friends.” There were thoughts of leaving early on when the plan of being together started looking like a lie. She felt more like property and the money was never hers to keep. However, the idea of escape was gone when sensing her unrest, he made her watch him physically beat another girl and hold a gun to her head, for disobeying him. A girl who had been with him longer, had been kind to her, and whom she considered a friend. Daddy also reminder her, that if she disobeyed, or left, there was always her little brother.
Daddy put a tattoo on her shoulder of his “stable” name. A “stable” is what a pimp calls his collection of human slaves, like a barn of animals, and the tattoo is a branding that lets other traffickers and pimps know that he or she already has an owner.
He also gave her plenty of drugs and alcohol to keep her feeling like she was older than she was, a false sense of freedom from authority and power, to get her through the pain and sometimes torture fantasies played out on her body by the buyers, and to keep her coming back to medicate a growing addiction.
After a week or weekend of being abused, raped, often hungry and dehydrated, she would get dropped off at home Sunday night or at public school Monday morning. All that the police were told by family was that she had runaway and with her return she would be taken off the warrant list and given a court date. To the court, she was one of many teens who did not heed the warning to stay safe and off the streets and listen to her mother. To her teachers she was chronically tardy or absent, a distraction in class, and could not stay on task. As for her mother, I would see in time, she had made the decision that filling her own hole with a boyfriend was more important than the abyss this man and his son were digging in her daughters’ life.
DECISION TO ESCAPE
At age 14, it was at the home of a buyer she would decide to make an escape. Daddy dropped her off with a man, at his north suburban Minnesota home, who had ordered her through an online escort ad offering a “New” Girl. (After 2 years, she was not new, but it is ad code for under age) She arrived and met the middle aged male, a fulltime Taxi driver, who locked the door behind her, and said, “Hello, you can get undressed.” After he took what he had paid for, he decided to ask her name. She refused a name, but asked if she could please use his shower and have something to eat. He allowed her to shower and eat. This stroke of humanity from him, despite the rape that preceded this kindness, compelled her to cry out for help. She told him that she was being sold against her will and did not want to be released back to the man that dropped her off. As if receiving a revelation that a 14 year old child would not be a willing participant in slavery, rape, and violence, he agreed to help her escape. While the trafficker flashed a pistol at the front door demanding she come outside or they both would be dead, the buyer snuck her out the backdoor and she fled.
MEETING ON THE STREET
This is where we met. Hours after fleeing that buyers’ home, I had spotted her walking the street to another buyers’ house who offered to give her shelter for the night; shelter with a sexual price. The man who called while she was in our squad car was that buyer. He was the nude man in the photo I saw on her phone. His instruction to her when she had answered the phone and said, “They got me” was, “Well, don’t tell them about me.” She said, “OK.” He knew “they” were the police.
This 12 year old child’s ordeal in the American sex trafficking market is a common scenario for the 300,000 boys and girls vulnerable to trafficking in the United States every year. Worldwide estimates are 2.5 million children a year are victims of sex trafficking. She is in plain sight. So are the traffickers and the buyers.
THE BIRTH OF A MINISTRY
Unexpectedly, after 12 years in law enforcement, I felt called back into ministry with a purpose I can see God designed since I was a kid on the same streets that I would later patrol as an Officer. In law enforcement when you rescue a child from trafficking or pornography, you see with 20/20 hindsight the vulnerabilities, life circumstances, and factors that led to a child being targeted for exploitation. You see who is in the market for buying a child. You also see who along the way had contact with this child and had an opportunity to interdict. My mission is to take this hindsight and make it your foresight; helping the church and community become aware, equipped, and deployed working together for the protection of children and youth.
Currently, I am the Lead Facilitator of A.C.T. (Anti Child Trafficking) United, in Carver County Minnesota. In law enforcement or ministry, I am still on the front lines, in the fight for justice, calling others to join me!
For more information on ACT United, a ministry led by Jessica Bartholomew, established to educate people about sex trafficking and how we can help stop it from happening in our communities, you can visit their Facebook page or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.